When Outward Bound announced its suspension of summer programming, dozens of staff who had been counting on Outward Bound for their summer employment had to scramble to find different jobs. A few found work with other outdoor leadership organizations, teaching two- and three-month expeditions in self-contained groups. Others responded to a sudden need in the Methow Valley for educators to help working parents manage their kids’ remote learning.
“Some parents called Outward Bound early on,” says program director Joel Reid. “They knew that our instructors liked kids, liked teaching, and were passionate about outdoor education.” Although Outward Bound didn’t then and doesn’t now officially provide staff to assist with remote learning, many of the people currently helping kids stay engaged in their learning come from Outward Bound.
There is, however, and has been for years a formal relationship between the Methow Valley School District and Outward Bound. Originally funded by a No Child Left Inside grant – a national movement to provide funding for environmental education that enhanced environmental literacy for K-12th grade students – the Outward Bound partnership with the district has, over the years, given hundreds of students a taste of one- to three-day Outward Bound experiences designed to encourage cooperation, trust, leadership and problem-solving.
Last week, about 100 more students in grades 9 and 10, and at the Independent Learning Center, completed one-day Outward Bound programs at the Mazama basecamp on Lost River Road. Although this year’s programs, which included rock climbing, rappelling and team-building initiatives, were all single-day experiences due to COVID, students still managed to pack the day full of meaningful activities. They also wrote about the experience, both before and after, “as a bridge,” Reid says, “so that the Outward Bound program isn’t just a stand-alone experience for them.”
Reid says that it rained pretty hard last Thursday, when one of the freshman cohorts was at Outward Bound. Reid and Dani Golden, a former Outward Bound instructor and one of the Liberty Bell teachers spearheading the relationship with Outward Bound, walked up to Fun Rock to check in on the groups that were rock climbing. “We were amazed at how high the students’ spirits were,” Reid says. “They wanted to do more climbs, to just keep going. It was really great to see that.”
The continued funding of the district’s Outward Bound program is a story of another kind of spirit — community spirit. When No Child Left Inside funding for the program ceased in 2019, the Public School Funding Alliance and private donors stepped up to fill the gap in a way that Reid calls “more sustainable” than the original grant, which changed its requirements. Last year Outward Bound focused its Give Methow crowdfunding efforts on the fall 2020 MVSD programs; this year’s Give Methow campaign is targeted at the 2021 programs.
With the last of the fall programs behind them, the Outward Bound staff who ran the school programs last week are now headed out on a “dry run” expedition focusing on COVID protocol in the field, in preparation for next summer’s backcountry expeditions with students, Reid says. “We’re looking at cooking management, hiking management –all the aspects of wilderness travel — through a COVID lens.”